To consolidate, disseminate, and gather information concerning the 710 expansion into our San Rafael neighborhood and into our surrounding neighborhoods. If you have an item that you would like posted on this blog, please e-mail the item to Peggy Drouet at pdrouet@earthlink.net

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Effort to repair Seattle tunnel machine delayed


July 28, 2014

An effort to repair the giant tunneling machine stuck under downtown Seattle is going more slowly than expected.

The state Transportation Department said Monday it had been informed by the contractor, Seattle Tunnel Partners, that it's taking longer than expected to construct an underground shaft that will allow crews to reach the machine's damaged cutter head.

The DOT says it's "no easy task" to build a concrete ring that's 80 feet wide and 120 feet deep. Work on the shaft was expected to be done this month, but could take until the end of August. After the pit is finished, crews will use a massive crane to lift the head of the machine to the surface to repair seals and bearings.

The contractor still expects to resume digging next March and hopes to have the tunnel open in November 2016.

Dori Monson: We need a leader to save us from Seattle tunnel big dig nightmare


By Dori Monson, July 29, 2014

tunnel WSDOT
 There is yet another delay for the Seattle tunnel project in the repair timeline. KIRO Radio's Dori Monson doesn't think the tunnel will ever be built.

We're hearing this week there is yet another delay for the Seattle tunnel. This is something that affects everybody who is listening because everybody in the state is going to be on the hook for this thing.
On Monday, we got an update on the delay, and according to Chris Dixon, the project manager for Seattle Tunnel Partners, it's going to be another month before they can even start this repair.
"Originally, we were going to finish the secant piles by the end of July. Now, they're going to finish next month and that puts us about one month later."

When they first released the extensive drawings and schematics for the repair plans, I said the complexity of the plans made me even more confident that my billion-dollar overrun estimate is conservative.

Now, I am just a dumb guy from Ballard with zero engineering and zero geology background, so how is it that here on this show we were able to say there is no way they're going to be able to make these repairs on the timetable they've proposed? It was just such an obviously massive job. How is it that the gut from a dumb guy from Ballard at a glance was more accurate than the people running this program?

I really don't understand how with all the experts, all the engineers, all the technology, all the computer modeling, how they are so consistently wrong on everything they do with this project.
Let me also refer you to something we exclusively broke on this show a few months ago. We went undercover and had reporters follow four guys, four higher-ups in the Seattle tunnel project, who were several times a week taking an hour-and-a-half out of their days to go to the driving range at Interbay Golf Course.
After we busted them on the air, amazingly they went back to Interbay in the same vehicles, but they had removed the Seattle Tunnel Partners logo so they could continue golfing on a regular basis.
There were a lot of people who said Monson, you're really scraping the bottom of the barrel now, who cares if they go golfing on their lunch break. What I said was if they're telling us that getting this tunnel built on time and on budget has been a top priority, you don't have an extra couple of hours a day to go golfing.
I don't take hour and half lunch breaks. I don't have time to do that. And if you're managing a multi-billion dollar project that has been a disaster, you don't have time to go golfing three, four days a week. Golfing was apparently more important to them than serving the public.

Todd Trepanier, with the Washington State Department of Transportation, says apparently this one month delay doesn't mean they're off schedule to begin digging again in March.

"That has increased our concern in their ability to be able to resume mining at the end of March, but we look to STP to give us updated schedules. They're communicating to us just as you've heard them communicate to you of the March date still being good from their standpoint from what they know."
Explain to me how if the repairs right now are a month behind schedule, you still meet a deadline that is seven months away on time? We are being sold a bill of goods here gang.

We need a leader, we need Jay Inslee, Ed Murray, Lynn Peterson, somebody to say, look we blew a couple billion dollars, this thing is not going to be built, it's an impossibility, we're going to cut our losses, we're going to save the taxpayers money.
We need a leader to save us from what is coming.
And what is coming is a big dig multi-billion dollar overrun, that'll be multiple years behind schedule, and in the end, I don't think the tunnel is ever going to get built.

This is going to end up costing every single one of us who lives in this state thousands, maybe tens of thousands of dollars. They are stealing this money from us and nobody besides this show is willing to sound that alarm. We need a leader who is going to prioritize you and me above the big developers, the labor unions, and those who might profit off this, but they refuse to do that.

Big Dig Revisited


No date.

 Road to Tragedy -- A history of Big Dig troubles

Big Dig leaking tunnels

Artery tunnel springs leak

Water gushed into the Central Artery's northbound tunnel for hours from a small breach in the eastern wall, backing up afternoon rush-hour traffic for miles. (Boston Globe, 9/16/04)
Big Dig found riddled with leaks
Engineers investigating the cause of the massive Big Dig tunnel leak discovered the project is riddled with hundreds of fissures pouring millions of gallons of water into the tunnel system. (Boston Globe, 11/10/04)
 List of tunnel troubles grows (Boston Globe, 11/17/04)
Use of slurry walls may have spawned leaks
Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff's decision to use a pair of massive slurry walls as a lone barrier in the Big Dig project may have led to the hundreds of cracks in the tunnel walls. (Boston Globe, 12/19/04)
On Sept. 15, 2004, water spewed through fissures in the Central Artery tunnel.
On Sept. 15, 2004, water spewed through fissures in the Central Artery tunnel. (Evan Richman / Globe Staff Photo)
Leakage in Big Dig tunnel rises
Almost three years after state managers vowed to close thousands of leaks in the Big Dig tunnels, nearly 2 million gallons of water flow each month through the O'Neill Tunnel, an 18 percent increase over last year, a Globe analysis shows. (Boston Globe, 7/1/07)
Leaks still plague tunnel
Water is still leaking steadily into the Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. Tunnel with no signs of abating and continued uncertainty about where it is all coming from, according to a new state analysis, which flatly contradicts Massachusetts Turnpike Authority officials' claim that they have the problem under control. ()
Big Dig ceiling collapse

Mass. crisis of confidence

With a Big Dig flaw now responsible for a death, state officials rushed to contain an unprecedented crisis of public confidence in the project. (Boston Globe, 7/12/06)
Workmanship and design are called into question
Investigators should focus on some basic, troubling questions about the way the tunnel ceiling was built, civil engineers and highway construction specialists said. (Boston Globe, 7/12/06)
Concrete falls, and a couple's joy is destroyed
Angel Del Valle was driving through the Interstate 90 connector at about 10:45 Monday night, his wife, Milena, at his side, to pick up his brother at Logan International Airport. Suddenly, in front of him, the ceiling began to give way. (Boston Globe, 7/12/06)
Photo Gallery Photos Pop-up SLIDESHOW: Boston reacts
Pop-up GLOBE INTERACTIVE GRAPHIC: The faulty bolt system Pop-up AP INTERACTIVE: Big Dig Dirt
Officials and crews worked at the scene of the accident at the Mass. Pike connector tunnel on Tuesday, July 11.
Officials and crews worked at the scene of the accident at the Mass. Pike connector tunnel on Tuesday, July 11. (Globe Staff Photo / Pat Greenhouse)
Big Dig cost overruns

Artery errors cost more than $1b

A yearlong Globe investigation determined that at least $1.1 billion in Big Dig construction cost overruns, or two-thirds of the cost growth to date, are tied to Bechtel mistakes. (4/28/03)
Cost-recovery efforts have been nearly a lost cause
State officials routinely overlooked or excused Bechtel's errors in the construction of the Big Dig, a Globe investigation found. (2/11/03)
Lobbying translates into clout
Bechtel has cemented bonds with policymakers to protect profits and deflect criticism. (5/29/03)
The Central Artery.
The Central Artery. (David L. Ryan / Globe Staff Photo)
Big Dig midpoint issues

Rising scrutiny, soaring costs
cloud fortunes of the Big Dig

Roughly halfway through the 20-year endeavor known as The Big Dig, there are still miles -- expensive miles -- to go. (Boston Globe, 9/11/94)
Project poses a test for privatization
Officials and industry sources say Bechtel has instilled a chilling effect over a project in which some believe it has a conflict of interest (Boston Globe, 9/12/94)
Commitments to foes raise Artery price tag
Hundreds of expensive promises were made to buy support from opponents. (Boston Globe, 9/13/94)
RECENT Big Dig woes
January: Matthew Amorello, chairman and chief executive officer of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, hires retired probate court judge Edward M. Ginsburg to lead the agency's cost-recovery efforts.

January: Icy road conditions inside the northbound tunnel of Interstate 93 force the closing of one lane, and traffic backs up into Milton.
March: On evidence obtained from Ginsburg's team, the state sues Bechtel Corp. and Parsons Brinckerhoff for $146 million, alleging the firms made inaccurate cost estimates in public, to continue lucrative contracts.
September: Water gushes into the Central Artery's northbound tunnel for hours, backing up afternoon rush-hour traffic for miles.
Nov. 11: A report says engineers discovered that the project is riddled with hundreds of leaks and that Bechtel managers were aware that the wall was deficient from the moment it was built in the late 1990s, yet did not order it replaced and did not inform state officials of the situation.
Nov. 12: Governor Mitt Romney calls on Amorello to resign.

Jan. 13: Amorello announces an agreement with Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly to turn over cost-recovery responsibilities.
Jan. 25: Romney again asks Amorello to step down, when a new report on Big Dig managers accuses them of impeding the investigation into tunnel leaks.
March: Chunks of melting snow and ice fall from the cables of the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge and force the temporary closing of four traffic lanes on I-93.
April 4: A Federal Highway Administration report says that tunnels are safe, but that the state must develop an aggressive tunnel-inspection program.
April 5: A day after the FHA declares the tunnels safe, rocks and other debris rain down from an overhead vent in the I-93 southbound tunnel and damage five vehicles.
May 26: Big Dig officials say two leaks have been spewing 20 to 30 gallons of water a minute into the Fort Point Channel section of the Interstate 90 tunnel since last winter.
July: An inspection finds a 1,500-foot stretch of the tunnel near the North End to be the most problem-plagued area of the project, with weaknesses in the tunnel walls that exceed those in the section of tunnel that had a gushing leak in 2004.
December: The Globe discloses that Amorello interviewed in the fall for a top position to manage all construction at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, but was passed over for another candidate.

February: The attorney general's office demands $108 million in refunds from Big Dig contractors. The demand was made in a Feb. 7 letter to the lawyer representing Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, the private sector manager of the project, and the two- dozen smaller design firms supervised by the consortium.
May: Six managers from Aggregate Industries NE Inc. are indicted on charges of running a conspiracy that delivered 5,000 truckloads of tainted concrete, 1.2 percent of the concrete used on the Big Dig over nine years.
July 10: A 2 1/2- to 3-ton concrete ceiling panel in the I-90 connector tunnel falls, killing a woman.
July 12: Inspectors find at least 60 faulty bolt fixtures in the ceiling of the tunnel. The attorney general says tests conducted in 1999 showed that the ceiling bolts had a tendency to come loose.
July 13: Romney announces he is filing emergency legislation to give him control of inspections in the highway tunnel network, as well as the final decision on reopening the tunnel.

SOURCE: Boston Globe archives
Kathleen Hennrikus/Globe Staff

(Globe Staff File Photo / Lane Turner)

If an Electric Bike Is Ever Going to Hit It Big in the U.S., It's This One

Is the Copenhagen Wheel poised to become the next big thing in alternative urban transportation?


By Nate Berg, July 29, 2014


CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—On a sunny but brisk spring morning near the Charles River in Cambridge, I took a test ride on the bicycle of the future. No rockets or lasers (alas), the bicycle of the future looks pretty much like the bicycle of the present. But with the first pumps of my feet on the pedals, I felt the difference. The bike wasn't just moving, it was pushing, adding extra propulsion to my own pedaling, giving me a boost with every revolution of the pedals. Faster than expected, I reached the end of a quiet block leaning into a corner. I took a straightaway for a few blocks and pushed 20 miles an hour without hardly trying. My feet were putting out a solid paper-route effort, but the bike had me racing in the Tour de France.

The bike I tested was equipped with the Copenhagen Wheel, an electric pedal-assist motor fully contained in the oversized red hub of an otherwise normal back bicycle wheel. Inside that red hub is a delicately crammed array of computing equipment, sensors, and a three-phase brushless direct current electric motor that can feel the torque of my pedaling and add appropriately scaled assistance.

Replace the back wheel of any bike with the Copenhagen Wheel and it's instantly an electric bike—one that not only assists the rider but senses the surrounding topography and can even collect and share data about environmental, traffic, and road conditions. First developed in 2009, through a partnership between MIT's Senseable City Lab and the City of Copenhagen, the wheel is now in its first stages of commercial production. By the end of 2014, thousands will be shipped out to fulfill pre-orders around the world.

With its focus on design and simple application of complex technology, the Copenhagen Wheel is perhaps the sleekest version of the electric bike. But it's hardly the only one. Millions of electric bicycles are being used in cities all over the world, offering cheap and accessible forms of transportation in developing countries and dense urban environments. And though bicycling has long been considered recreation in the United States, the electric bicycle is about to become the next big thing in urban transportation.

•       •       •       •       •

The electric bicycle is a relatively new idea. In its basic form, it's a battery-powered motorized bike operated either by a manual throttle on the handle bars or by an automatic system that adds power when pedaling. About 20 years ago manufacturers began to offer these lighter and cheaper alternatives to mopeds and motor scooters.

Frank Jamerson has been watching the market evolve since the beginning. An engineer who helped build the first nuclear submarines at Westinghouse and who later helped run the EV-1 electric vehicle program for General Motors, Jamerson started publishing the Electric Bikes World Report, a bi-annual profile of the global market for electric bikes, in 1995. Then, as now, China led the way, according to report co-author and chairman of the Light Electric Vehicle Association, Ed Benjamin.

China was an early adopter of electric bikes and still leads the world in sales, with 32 million in 2013.

Benjamin and Jamerson estimate that 32 million electric bikes were sold in China in 2013, though they note that the Chinese bikes are often low-quality, costing a few hundred dollars on average and only lasting for a year or two before breaking down. In Europe, the next biggest market, where most of the electric bikes are higher quality and sell for upwards of $3,000, Jamerson and Benjamin estimate about 1.4 million sales in 2014. Japan and India are other major markets, with sales in the hundreds of thousands.

In the United States, the numbers are smaller but growing. From July 2011 to June 2012, American consumers bought about 100,000 electric bikes, according to Jamerson's estimates. The next year, sales reached 185,000. By 2016, as more manufacturers and retailers get into the electric bike market, Jamerson expects annual sales above 400,000. Within 20 years, he thinks the number could be as high as 2 million, and that the United States will be one of the top markets for electric bicycles in the world.

"We've got an ever-expanding population in the world that's moving more and more to denser and denser cities. Those cities require transportation solutions much more like a bicycle or an electric bicycle," says Benjamin. "The fact that the United States is transitioning a little bit slower than the rest of the world, I don’t see that as important. It's going to happen. It is happening. It will continue to happen."

There's certainly no shortage of manufacturers. There are nearly a hundred brands of electric bikes currently on the market. From Chinese manufacturers building millions of electric bikes a year to small garage-based startups, the supply side of electric bikes has developed rapidly over the past 20 years. And though Chinese manufacturers like Geoby are leading the global market, much of the U.S. market is led by three American companies: Pedego, Prodecotech, and Currie Technologies.

Currie, based in Simi Valley, California, has been building electric bikes since 1997. The company now offers more than two dozen different types of electric bikes, ranging from beach cruisers to mountain bikes, as well as a variety of conversion kits. Currie president Larry Pizzi concedes that the U.S. market has been slower to develop, but he's also seen strong recent growth in sales. Without offering specific figures, he says sales were up 25 percent from 2011 to 2012, and another 25 percent from 2012 to 2013. And the trend is continuing upwards, with Pizzi saying business with dealers "more than doubled" through the first quarter of 2014.

But retailers have been slow to adopt electrics as a viable product—especially in the United States. Pizzi says retailers have been hesitant because electric bikes are "counter-intuitive" to what they think their customers want. "It's a passionate industry in North America, and it focuses on the enthusiast core," he says. Think weekend century rides and skin-tight outfits. "That's all well and good. But they're not thinking about bikes for transportation."

The shift is happening, although slowly. Jamerson says that of the roughly 4,000 bicycle-specific retailers in the United States, about 900 sell electric bikes today. And some of the world's biggest vehicle manufacturers and technology companies have plans to enter the U.S. market, too. Smart recently began selling pedal-assist electric bicycles in its U.S. car dealerships, as did Ford. The German engineering and electronics company Bosch has made major investments in electric bike drive units, which are now used by more than 60 different brands. Industry insiders say General Motors will likely be entering this market soon as well.
•       •       •       •       •
The bike of the future I rode in Cambridge, equipped with the Copenhagen Wheel, also had an iPhone mounted on the handle bars. I swiped my finger across it to switch from Turbo mode to Regular, bringing my top speed down to about 15 miles per hour, according to the phone's display. I pedaled normally, but didn't exert myself. When I stopped pedaling the motor stopped, too, and I coasted, which also recharged the battery. Once I started pedaling again the motor almost instantly kicked back in, boosting me forward with a subtle but noticeable push of extra power.

Cyclists using the Copenhagen Wheel can change speeds by swiping a smartphone fixed to the handlebars.
After riding around for a while, I took this prototype bike back to the offices of Superpedestrian, the company that's been developing the commercial version of the Copenhagen Wheel. In a small conference room, whiteboards and white walls were covered in drawings of gizmo components and schematic printouts. Next to a hand-drawn sketch of the wheel's internal parts somebody's scribbled the words "puzzle building."

Assaf Biderman, founder of Superpedestrian and associate director of the Senseable City Lab, from which he spun off the company, explained how the original idea for the Copenhagen Wheel emerged. It sprouted in a class of about 10 students working on ideas related to a partnership with Copenhagen meant to develop urban solutions. Even with Denmark's already high rate of cycling, the city was looking for ways to get more people on bikes by understanding what was holding some of them back. The major factor was distance.

"We decided instead of thinking about the whole bike, let's think about where the crux of the matter here is, which is motorizing it and giving people access," says Biderman.

They finished a prototype of the electric-assist wheel in time to unveil it at COP 15, the United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Copenhagen in 2009. Mayors and government officials from around the world took it for a test ride. "The goal was to send world leaders home with a message that almost any city in the world could become as cycling-friendly as Copenhagen," says Biderman. Back at MIT, the Senseable City Lab continued to develop the wheel, and Biderman licensed the idea from the university in late 2012. He quietly opened the Superpedestrian office in Cambridge and stocked it with engineers and roboticists who'd previously built vehicles like UAVs and the Segway. In December 2013, they began accepting pre-orders, with the wheel priced at $699. (It's now selling for $799.)

One of the main principles guiding the design of the Copenhagen Wheel was that it should be incredibly simple. "The bike should stay a bike," says Biderman. Ease of use is certainly part of the appeal. Once installed, the wheel is operated by a smartphone app via Bluetooth. The wheel unlocks itself when the user's phone is close by, and the app includes several speed-assist settings from Turbo to Flatten My City, which uses sensors in the hub to detect hills. The wheel imitates the rider, integrating its own propulsion seamlessly as the rider pedals: pedal more, get more power; pedal less, get less. Braking and coasting recharges the lithium ion battery, which holds about 30 miles of range. To facilitate global use, the Copenhagen Wheel's specifications can be altered to comply with local cycling regulations for wherever it's sent.

From the user perspective, the wheel is simple. But inside it's literally a robot computer. Many sensors and control algorithms are working constantly to understand the motion of the bike, its position in space, the torque of the rider, and the additional torque it must use to achieve the desired speed. Superpedestrian has also created an open API, enabling developers to make their own modifications to the app and its interactions with the wheel. Of the pre-order group, about 20 percent of buyers self-identified as programmers and have volunteered to provide feedback on how their hacks work with the first iteration of the wheel.

The Copenhagen Wheel (above, in red) can turn any bike into an electric bike. 
Initially the design included a number of other environmental sensors and sharing capabilities that would turn the wheel itself into a sort of roving urban sensing unit. Ideas included CO2 and noise sensors, and an option to collect road condition and traffic data that could be sent to a database for the city's use in addressing dangerous streets or adding bicycle infrastructure where ridership is high. For now, that's been set aside to get the first version finished at an affordable price; more sensors cost more money, after all.

Biderman says some of that may come later, but it all depends on how people want to use the wheel. Ultimately, he expects to see some ways of collecting and sharing data widely (and anonymously), from neighborhood cycling communities to City Hall.
"I think there's a very exciting future for planners and local governments when it comes to being able to address demand in a quantitative way and a rigorous way based on real usage," he says.
•       •       •       •       •

Americans have a mental block about bicycling that's mentioned again and again by industry insiders: While people in places like Europe think of the bicycle as transportation, people in the United States largely still think of it as recreation. There's a long history of urban development patterns and transportation policies that have led to this perception, and those tendencies are hard to break. Though there does seem to be a general uptick in cycling in pockets of the country, the reality is that most U.S. transportation happens in a car. If the electric bike is to be successful here, it will have to overcome the national perception of bicycles as playtoys.

Transitioning the bicycle from recreation to transportation could hinge on something as simple as a sweaty armpit. "For 30 years, I've seen surveys about why people don't ride," says Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists. "They don’t ride because it's too far or because they get hot and sweaty. And these are things that electric-assist bikes can help overcome."

A recent survey of U.S. electric bike owners suggests some progress on the problem of the stinky commute. John MacArthur of Portland State University found that 74 percent of 553 respondents said they don't need to shower after the end of the average trip on their electric bike. But sweat, or lack thereof, isn't the only thing pushing people onto electric bikes. According to MacArthur's survey, almost 70 percent of respondents said they purchased their electric bikes to replace some of their car trips.

MacArthur notes that while his survey wasn't the most scientific, it did reveal some interesting demographics about who is using electric bicycles. About 45 percent of respondents were 55 or older, and about 30 percent indicated that they have a physical condition that makes riding a standard bike difficult. He argues that these should be indications to retailers that the market for electric bicycles isn't just hip Millennials; older people are interested, too.
"I think the survey alludes to the potential that electric bikes really can get more people biking and to bike more often," says MacArthur.

The international nature of the electric bicycle market has posed some problems, too. Different countries have different standards for how fast and powerful electric bicycles can be. For example, electric bike motors in the European Union can be only 250 watts, while they can be up to 750 watts in the United States. China allows a top speed of about 12 miles per hour; the EU, about 15 miles per hour; the United States and Canada, 20 miles per hour.

Assaf Biderman, founder of Superpedestrian, says the goal of electric wheel-assist design was to make almost any city "as cycling-friendly as Copenhagen." 
Much of the confusion has to do with what, exactly, counts as an electric bike. Some places consider electric bikes and mopeds with internal combustion engines to be essentially the same thing, while others draw strong lines between them. Some places require helmets or registrations, while others don't.

The United States, for its part, has at least come up with a standard definition (put forth in H.R. 727, an amendment to the Consumer Product Safety Act that became law in 2002). Even with federal guidance, confusion remains. State and local regulations of electric bicycles vary widely across the country, especially with regard to whether they belong in roads or bike lanes (or both). "Some municipalities and states are more equating electric bikes with the bicycle, and others are more equating them with a moped or motorized cycle," says MacArthur. The inconsistency has led to some places restricting electric bikes from using bike lanes.

Clearing up the regulations will take time, and it may take more electric bikes on city streets. Though numbers are rising, the main challenge for electric bike makers and evangelists is to make them mainstream. Convincing the U.S. market to consider electric bikes as transportation will be key, according to Benjamin and Jamerson, the industry trackers. A big way to open the market will be to make them more affordable. Even more important will be to make them cool.

•       •       •       •       •

Superpedestrian has done the first run of production in the workshop of their Cambridge office, and are working on industrializing the process for factory production by the thousands later this year. The project is venture-backed, and Superpedestrian has inked deals with a few undisclosed major international companies to get even more of the bikes on the road. The design and idea behind the Copenhagen Wheel has even inspired some competition. A very similar back wheel pedal-assist add-on called FlyKly raised $701,239 on Kickstarter in November 2013, and the company expects to ship its first wheels in the fall.

Benjamin, who works as an adviser to many electric bike manufacturers, says he's happy to see these new players get into the electric bike market. They're worlds away from the low-quality lead acid battery bikes he saw in China in the mid-'90s, and he thinks that these newer, sleeker, simpler electric bikes could finally help transition the U.S. bike market to start thinking seriously about going electric. The Copenhagen Wheel is leading the way, he says.

"The Superpedestrian wheel is so far in the lead in terms of the engineering and coming to market that they are probably going to define the market entirely," says Benjamin. "I'd say that on my list of customers that are going to hit a home run, that one's at the top."

But changing perceptions takes time. Jamerson, who's been watching the electric bike market since it first emerged, says electric bike makers will have to do all they can to take advantage of America's cycling momentum. He even suggests one of the oldest tricks in the marketing playbook: the celebrity endorsement. "We have not had enough pictures of celebrities riding electric bikes," he says.

He's got some ideas. He says that a few years ago, during a reception with then-Energy Secretary Steven Chu, a Chinese delegation gave electric bicycles to Chu and Barack Obama as gifts. If someone could get Obama to ride his electric bike, says Jamerson, that could really get them into the hearts and minds of the American public. "If you know anybody in the White House," he says, "tell them there's an electric bike somewhere in storage that they ought to pull out."

What Congress Should Be Talking About When It Talks About a National Transportation Plan

There's a worthy federal infrastructure program staring America right in the face: broadband.


By Eric Jaffe, July 30, 2014


Late Tuesday, with federal transportation funding set to run dry by the end of the week, the U.S. Senate approved a funding patch that would stem the tide through mid-December. That stands in contrast to a House-approved patch that would fund transportation through May. The Senate hopes the earlier deadline will motivate Congress to craft a long-term plan this term—a rather optimistic goal, considering it can't even agree on a short-term fix with a construction shutdown staring it in the face.

There are a bundle of cynical reasons why Congress has struggled to craft a reasonable long-term transportation plan in recent years, but there's also a pretty valid one that doesn't get enough attention: The United States lacks a national infrastructure agenda.

For decades, the federal government had a clear role in U.S. transportation—namely, to fund the interstate highway system. The national interest was obvious in this case, with all Americans benefitting from improved interstate commerce and mobility, so it made sense for Congress to take the funding lead. But that system is built out (and, in some metro areas, overbuilt), and its likeliest successor, a national high-speed rail system, is a complete non-starter to one political party.

That leaves federal lawmakers in unfamiliar territory. For most of them, the desire to oversee a national transportation program is still there; on Tuesday, the Senate overwhelmingly rejected a plan that would gradually devolve responsibility for transportation funding to the states, 69-28. But there's no car to drive, or ship to captain, or plane to pilot, or train to conduct—whatever your preferred metaphorical transport vehicle, Congress sees no place at its helm
That said, there's a legitimate infrastructure program staring us (quite literally, unless you've printed this out) right in the face: digital networks.

A National Internet System, or whatever it might be called, would seem to be the most logical modern equivalent to the National Highway System. True, most Americans can already get online, but as we pointed out last year, a startling number of rural residents lack minimal broadband access, and service in major U.S. metros lags behind world-class cities. The F.C.C. recently estimated that 100 million Americans don't subscribe to broadband—a third of the population. In other words, there's potential for interest here from federal officials all along the political spectrum.

The question then becomes whether you consider broadband to be transportation, per se, and thus eligible to receive federal transportation dollars. In a strict literal sense, your answer might be no, but it's not really that much of a stretch to think of going online as the digital version of a road trip. You might not be physically leaving your seat, but you are, in a way, sending a microscopic envoy on an errand for information. You are engaging with something or someone that resides somewhere else.
Semantics aside, there's a clear case for treating communication as transportation in American history. In colonial times, they were one and the same. The very first roads in this country were postal routes; Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution provides for the establishment of "post offices and post roads" because the concepts of message and movement were intertwined then, even if they seem quite distinct today.

And consider that Congress didn't always consider road-building its job, either. Even by the closing years of the 19th century, many individual states bristled at the concept of a federal transportation program, preferring to maintain roads themselves. ("Texas can boast the best roads, with the least work, of any State in or out of the Union," state officials said in response to a federal road push in 1868.) The first federal road funding doesn't appear until 1893, and even then it would be years before a true federal road program emerged.

Nor is the idea of a federal infrastructure program based on broadband mere food for thought among transport historians. Earlier this month, during a keynote talk at the Open Knowledge Festival in Berlin, Eric Hysen of Google made an explicit reference to yesterday's transportation with respect to tomorrow's technology. Hysen compared the digital capabilities of the modern era with colonial stagecoaches: limited by the second-rate routes they traverse:
We have produced incredible, innovative technologies, but they are being prevented from achieving maximum impact because we lack necessary public infrastructure. We don't have good roads to drive our stagecoaches on.
Hysen went on to say that it's time for countries to build the digital equivalent of "long-distance highways." He suggests private companies take the lead— modern-day British Turnpike Trusts—but there's no reason the federal government couldn't jump in first (or, as well). Building off that line of thought, Brown historian Jo Guldi challenged private and public entities alike to build the "material pipes through which information flows":
In the eighteenth century, those pipes were the roads, which carried state-coaches, which carried mail, parcels, and newspapers, thus generating an information revolution. In the twenty-first century, those pipes are broadband cable. Thus far, Google has been content to stand by while Cox and Comcast monopolize broadband across America (practically everywhere except Knoxville, TN and Lafayette, LA) and become pushy in international conversations, thus jeapardizing the relationship of the entire Global South to an open internet. In practice, the Cox/Comcast monopoly means profits hand-over-fist for those who own the pipes, with almost no incentive to lay new pipes to poor people.
It's precisely that incentive—material pipes for all Americans—that should propel a national public works program. Guldi ends by saying it's "time to think big" about digital infrastructure. She's right. But there are lots of calls for Congress to think big when it comes to transportation, and few suggestions as to how. Let a coast-to-coast broadband system start the discussion. When Congress talks about a national infrastructure initiative, this is the type of thing it should be talking about.